Category Archives: News

San Gennaro Festival 2016

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New Yorkers are a resilient bunch with much pride in their city.  The bombing in Chelsea on September 17 would not deter them from carrying on.  The bombing occurred only two days into the ten-day San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy, but it didn’t keep the crowds from coming.  That’s good because it’s an important year for the festival–its 90th anniversary.

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September 19 is the feast day of San Gennaro and that is the day organizers celebrated with a mass and procession from the doors of the Most Precious Blood Church on Baxter Street around Canal Street and up through Mulberry Street.

Most Precious Blood Church

Most Precious Blood Church

This year’s grand marshal was Joe Causi.  A Bronx Tale‘s Chazz Palminteri also made an appearance at the festival.  (Tony Danza was the grand marshal of the parade last year, but this year,  I had my second run-in with the actor.  I was shopping in Alleva Dairy, the country’s oldest Italian cheese store, when a man said, “Excuse me, ma’am,” and brushed past me.  It was Tony.  Years ago, I ran into him on Bleecker Street and I asked for a photo to which he rudely said no.)

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Before Mass, I pinned a dollar on the statue of San Gennaro and got a pamphlet about him as well as a pin and prayer card.  Inside the church, there is a large presepio (Nativity scene) from Naples on display.

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Street vendors sell everything from American food to fair festival food like roasted corn,

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to pizza and cannoli

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to Italian tchotchkes

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to traditional Italian foods like these Italian cookies, taralli, mostaccioli and biscotti.

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I ate at Sal’s Pizza on Broome near Mulberry for pizza, sausage and broccoli rape.  At Sal’s, you get a side order of pasta with your entree, the traditional way.

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For dessert, some cassata and coffee at Caffe Palermo.

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Bucatini all’amatriciana in Honor of Italy’s Earthquake Victims

Last week, the Italian town of Amatrice was preparing for the 50th anniversary of sagra, its food festival to celebrate its famous dish, bucatini all’amatriciana, when a devastating 6.2 earthquake hit, destroying much of the city and killing 291 people.  A number of restaurants and chefs, including Jamie Oliver, are serving the local dish and donating a portion of the cost to the Italian Red Cross to help the victims.

Bucatini all’amatriciana is made with a tomato-and-bacon-based sauce with red chili, topped with pecorino romano cheese.  The bacon used is called guanciale, and it is a locally made bacon using the pork cheek, or jowl.  The fat is rendered from the bacon and used as the base of the sauce.

Of course, this is Italy, so there are different ways of making the sauce.  Some recipes add olive oil, onion, garlic, wine or basil.  These particular additions are usually made to “cut the fat,” as the guanciale can impart a gamey, fatty taste.

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Some substitute pancetta or bacon for the guanciale, but that’s only if guanciale is not readily available because all these products are different and will change the dish.  Some use a different pasta besides bucatiniBucatini is similar to perciatelli, which my family uses.  These are used interchangeably today, but I have seen them as two distinct pasta shapes in old cookbooks.  Some think spaghetti is a reasonable substitution but scoff at using a short pasta.  But there are reasons for using a particular pasta, such as how the sauce adheres to it.  Because tomatoes were not grown in the area, canned tomatoes are used.  (Before tomatoes arrived in Italy, the dish was made white, or in bianco.  The tomato-less version is called alla gricia.  Some think the dish only started having tomatoes after World War II.)  Finally, it is essential to use pecorino romano cheese and not parmigiano reggiano because the former is a sheep’s-milk cheese, which is from the local area with its history of shepherding, not cow’s-milk, like the latter.

I made bucatini all’amatriciana this weekend from the recipe in La Cucina:  The Regional Cooking of Italy by the Italian Academy of Cuisine.  Luckily, I found guanciale and got it cubed, which is how it is typically cut for this dish.  I substituted perciatelli for the bucatini, since I already had some.  Really, you can do what you like because the resultant dish will be delicious no matter how it is prepared.  The only criticism of mine would be that I used a lot of sauce, but this is how we like it.

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In addition to bucatini all’amatriciana, I made farro all’amatriciana with some farro I got from my cousin in Italy.  The farro recipe comes from Savoring Italy by Robert Freson.

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UN Climate Talks Letters to the Future

This week, the UN climate talks commence in Paris. The Letters to the Future project inspired me to write this post.  Here is my letter to future generations:

Every generation has its unique oppression. In the past, the church and monarchy were oppressors.

In 1602, the Dutch East India Company was the first company to issue stock. With incredible political power, it ushered in a new era, rule not by monarchs or religions, but by economics. In the 18th century, physiocrats got an idea that if all agricultural land was owned, shares in it could be bought. This idea has been the driving force behind much of contemporary history.

The American Revolution brought ideas of freedom, all men are created equal; freedom of religion, of speech, of the press. The most influential idea: free trade.

Resulting in the multinational corporation. Now we fight for labor reform; food free of chemicals, pesticides and GMOs; products free of harmful chemicals; land uncorrupted by chemical waste. Your fight will be like every dystopian future so prevalent in pop culture—who will have access to the earth’s few resources? The wealthiest few who made their fortunes from corporate investments of today. The majority shareholders of BIG PHARMA, BIG FOOD, and BIG OIL.

These corporations must attract investors by showing not only high sales numbers, but also potential for growth. Corporations create new products, often creating the problems first, so they can then create the solution. The 19th-century carnie con of snake oil is the global economic standard so a select few make obscene amounts of money.

“Global crises have proved that economic decisions (promoting) permanent profit gains are unsustainable (and) inherently immoral,” Pope Francis told Turin Mayor Piero Fassino, in response to the Third World Forum of Local Economic Development held in Turin in October 2015. He added, “Local economic development seems to be the most appropriate response to the challenges of a globalized economy, which often has cruel results.”

Future generation, will you be alive? No one knows the long-term effects of GMOs, vaccines, electromagnetic waves on our bodies and environments. You are the product of the great experiment of economic world dominance. Are we the Age of the Corporation? We call ourselves the Information Age. Not the term that you will give us. Your world is the way it is because no influential body in my generation had the courage to act against its oppressor. We looked to our smartphones, tablets, TVs, and watched what was readily available. That’s why you named us the Age of Complacency, because as a generation, we didn’t fight the oppressor, we only consumed entertainment about dystopian futures, yours.

 

Columbus Day: Italian Americans vs. Native Americans?

I understand that Columbus Day is a controversial holiday to some. Saying that Columbus “discovered” America is denying the Native Americans who were already living on this land. But no one can argue that Columbus’s landing here precipitated events that led to the formation of the United States of America. And that is something to celebrate—the first country in the world founded on principles and ideas.

Columbus Day has been celebrated in the United States since at least the mid-1800s, when immigrants from Italy started arriving in the country, but it had been celebrated by the American people prior to Italian immigration. In later years, it became a source of pride for Italian immigrants and new Italian Americans born in the United States, a group that was historically discriminated against. It’s unfortunate that Columbus Day seems to be Italian Americans versus Native Americans, when these are two groups who historically suffered discrimination (and genocide). I can understand why Native Americans would not want to celebrate a day that led to the eventual taking of their land and the killing of their people. But I think maybe a bit of Italian history might help them understand the Italian side of things.

Many people have heard that Garibaldi united Italy in the 1860s, but what they don’t realize is that Italy didn’t want to be united. Southern Italy was a part of a different kingdom, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. After unification, Southern Italians rebelled. The government labeled these rebels as brigands to make it sound like they were a bunch of thieves, rather than the patriots they were. Even Benjamin Disraeli spoke of them as patriots. At this time, they were not just killing brigands, but any Southern Italian they could. Naples had been the third largest city after Paris and London, and soon it was raped of its resources and the funds reallocated to Northern Italy for economic improvements there. This is a revisionist history that until late, has been largely forgotten—and purposely so. The situation in Southern Italy became more and more devastating that through the years of the 1870s to the 1920s, more and more Italians left, many coming to the United States. Most of these immigrants were from Southern Italy. But, unfortunately, they left one country that didn’t want them for another that didn’t want them. They suffered much discrimination and prejudice in the United States. They were forced to worship in the basement of predominantly Irish Catholic churches. They were lynched in the South. Some Southern states banned them from living in their states in the early 1900s.

But Southern Italians were a hardy people and were fighters, much like Native Americans. They had cities in Southern Italy dating back 10,000 years. Matera, in the southern state of Basilicata, is one such ancient city, where The Passion of the Christ was filmed because of its sassi, or houses carved in stone. Some of the older tribes of Italians were the Lucanians of this area and also the Samnites and Sabines of South-Central Italy. The Samnites were great warriors with a developed civilization alongside the Roman one. They had three wars with the Romans, and eventually lost to them. The Romans knew they had a formidable enemy, so they committed a genocide of the Samnites. Many did survive because they were familiar with the interior mountains of Italy and could hide. Others blended in with Roman society (Pontius Pilate was one of them). There is a famous battle, the battle of the Caudine Forks in 321 BC, where they defeated the Romans. The people from this area are still proud of this battle against the Romans. It is near the village where my grandfather was born, and I am a Samnite. Now, that was in 321 BC—a long time ago and yet I still identify with these people and this battle. It is still a great source of pride for me. Because I know that the Romans didn’t kill us off—because I’m still here. And the Northern Italians didn’t kill us off in the 1800s—because I’m still here. And the prejudice and discrimination we endured—and continue to endure as an “Other”ized group in the United States didn’t and doesn’t dissuade us—we are still here.

And I am sure that is how the Native Americans feel, a sense of loss but a sense of pride for fighting. I can always go back to Italy, even though I am culturally American. The homeland where my family comes from still exists albeit in a different way since millions of its children came from Southern Italy to America. Native Americans don’t have a homeland. Their homeland is here, a completely different place that was historically unkind to them and treated them much like the Roman Empire treated the Samnites, a nuisance standing in the way of Roman domination. But the Native Americans proudly fought, a fact I and many people greatly admire.

As an Italian American, I hate that Columbus Day makes Native Americans feel less than or as an “Other”ized group because my people were made to feel like an “Other”ized group and that is one reason Columbus Day is a source of pride for Italian Americans. I grew up near the Lumbee tribe and I do recognize the Lumbees as an official tribe. I also saw “Other”ization of them firsthand and experienced “Other”ization myself. I am hoping with more insight into this lost Italian history—that is never really told to a wider audience than Italian American academics, maybe Native Americans will see that they have more in common with Italian Americans and that Columbus Day isn’t about the beginning of the end for them. Just like the Samnites and Southern Italians, they fought and they are still here. And we are all Americans in the United States, a country that we love and hate, hate for its painful history but love for its progressive laws.

–Dina Di Maio

Shocking Speaker at Food Safety Forum

I recently went to a food safety forum. I went because I checked the calendar looking for another event and just happened to see that it was scheduled. Since I write about some food safety issues on my blog, I thought it might be interesting. (They were also providing lunch, and I was hoping they would serve bbq, which they did!)

The broad topic of this year’s forum was bird flu. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to the forum. However, the speakers had geared their talks toward farmers. There were a lot of people in attendance, at least a couple hundred. I couldn’t see any name tags, but I did see one representative from a major poultry producer. Speakers included a USDA veterinarian, a state veterinarian, a state emergency director, a representative from the United Egg Producers and a speaker from the Center for Food Integrity. I thought all of the talks were informative, though as I said before, geared more toward farmers and those who actually raise the poultry. I didn’t think there was much to write about for my blog. However, I was shocked by the last speaker’s talk and feel compelled to write about it. (You can see her talk http://www.ncagr.gov/ncfoodsafetyforum/media.htm)

I had never heard of the Center for Food Integrity, so I researched it online while at the forum. Apparently, it’s a not-for-profit organization whose objective is to “build consumer trust and confidence in today’s food system.” Like the other lectures, the speaker’s talk was also directed to farmers and food producers. In short, it was about how they could regain consumer trust in their products. She said that activists were to blame for creating a panic among consumers with their use of terms like “factory farm” and “GMO,” and that organizations like the Humane Society “use fear to build trust.”

She then went on to say that people used to have more trust in the food system 40 years ago. She analyzed what was different 40 years ago—why did people have trust then and they don’t now? She said then, authority was granted by office (she means elected officials) whereas now it is by relationship (Facebook groups and social media). OK, I could follow what she was saying at this point—social media does have a huge impact today.

After that, she said, 40 years ago, there was a “broad social consensus of Anglo-Saxon white males.” She said, back then, “you were African American or you were white and we all got along and everything was fine.” Now in today’s world, she says, there is “no single social consensus” and she mentioned that at her child’s school, 23 different languages are being spoken. I was shocked by what she had just said. It seemed to me she was implying that 40 years ago, things were better because “WASP males” were in charge (she had the acronym “WASP” written on the PowerPoint)—that it was easier to control people when the people making the decisions were homogenous. And I would disagree that there was ever a “single social consensus” in the United States.

The rest of her talk was the results of a research study and an analysis of consumer beliefs and behavior. It included things like “cultural cognition—the tendency for people to conform beliefs about controversial matters to people they hang around with.” In other words, if one mom on Facebook says she eats organic food, other moms will follow.

She said years ago, we relied on experts for our information and now we rely on a network through social media, blogs and family. She mentioned that people may buy cage-free products and the like and not know what that means.

Her talk focused on three groups surveyed—moms, millennials and foodies. Part of the survey included that 49% of respondents were concerned with the humane treatment of animals and with having access to information to make healthy food choices. For the latter, she said she didn’t understand that. (The study also mentioned that people had trust in Dr. Oz as a source of trusted information.)

While the purpose of her talk was to give farmers ideas on how to relate better with the public, it seemed to me to be about how to deal with informed consumers.

She said that the science is being denied. But my question is, what is the science? Who funds the science? (By the way, her talk was sponsored by the United Soybean Board [whom she thanks in the beginning], which is a checkoff—or “soybean farmers collectively invest[ing] a portion of their product revenue to fund research and promotion efforts.” I didn’t know what a checkoff was, but I looked it up. The Organic Consumers Association published an article this July about organizations like the Center for Food Integrity and the United Soybean Board spending a lot of money to get consumers to lean away from organic products toward their conventional ones.)

Finally, she said that the only thing people really want to know is this, “Give me permission to believe that my food is safe and has been produced in an ethical manner.” So what is she saying? That people want the permission to believe—not that the food actually be safe, just that people believe that it is?

I talked to only two people after the forum. Both told me how great a speaker she was and how they got good ideas on how to approach consumers.

So my takeaway is this—consumers must read, stay informed, go to their local farmers’ markets, meet their farmers, research the funding behind the messages. Forty years ago, people were much more trusting. The speaker said the millennial generation is the least trusting. These kids today. They care about animal welfare. They care about healthy food. And they don’t want to be lied to. What is the world coming to?

I have a simple solution—let consumers tour the farms. Let consumers see for themselves how the animals are being raised and how their food is grown. Transparency=trust.

 

 

House Passes the Dark Act

Yesterday, the House passed H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, better known as the Dark (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act.  Now it goes to the Senate.  If the bill becomes law, it would repeal Vermont’s labeling law and it would preempt any state law requiring labeling of GMOs.

Health, food and environmental advocates are against this bill, but if you read the websites of some farmers and farm organizations, they are for it.  Well, that is how they earn their bread and butter.

I recently took a drive into Southeastern North Carolina, through fields of farmland, tobacco and other crops.  I saw a sign posted near a field of something I didn’t recognize that said, Bayer CropScience.

Why Foodies Will Want to Visit the New Whitney Museum

The Whitney Museum made a smart move to the highly trafficked High Line in the popular Meatpacking District.  While it was a great idea to draw more crowds, I have to say I prefer the old building and space.  Why?  Not sure.  If it’s not broke, don’t fix it?  Having said that, the museum still has the same great art and many more acquisitions.  The good news is while there is a line to get in, it is short and moves fast.  It’s very efficient–others could learn from its example of how to keep a line moving.  Inside, there’s a small gift shop area near the ticket line.  Once through the ticket line, take an elevator up to view the art–if you’re lucky, you’ll get to ride the huge freight elevator with a horde of other art lovers wondering how much weight this elevator can hold.  On the top floor, step out on the balcony for great views of the city.  The museum is also right on the High Line, so you can stroll through after your museum tour.

Now–for the foodies.  The Whitney has a Danny Meyer restaurant, Untitled.  Besides Untitled, foodies may want to visit just to see Wayne Thiebaud’s cakes.  While the museum has a number of his works, only one is on view, Pie Counter.